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Desert Dwelling

What makes a desert a desert?

A desert becomes a desert because it doesn’t get rain. Yep, deserts are places where it hasn’t rained for a long time.

Maybe you’ve been traveling through a metaphorical desert. Maybe you've been there so long you feel like you're not only travelling through, you’ve set up a dwelling there. You've found yourself dwelling in a land that seems barren. Hopeless. And you don't know when or how you're going to find a land that's rich and fertile again.

Well, in the interests of looking at life in desert places I’ve done a little research about desert plants. There are some plants that seem to be purposeless. There are some plants that grow defensive tools with big thorns and prickles. And there are other plants that flourish and even provide sustenance for other life forms.

Having been a desert dweller myself for a long time, do you know what I’ve learnt about being in the desert?

You have to continually adapt and you have to be prepared to put down deep, deep roots if you’re going to survive, and even thrive.

Many plants that grow in the desert can be used for food – nourishment can, in fact, be found in a desert. Some produce desired fruit – like the date palm – which are slow growing and have a long, long life. Some plants produce beautiful, rare flowers – like the night blooming cereus – noteworthy for the inconspicuousness of its location. (Don’t we tend to feel forgotten or insignificant living in desert seasons?) Other plants are experts at catching fog water and can help to create rich oases.

If you’ve become a desert dweller and you’ve been thinking it’s a bad thing, let me ask if you’ve considered the type of species you’ve become?

Are you a tumbleweed that detaches from its plant when its mature and dry and rolls around large areas of land potentially causing havoc in desert fires? Have you become a saxaul bush with bark so spongey you can squeeze life-giving water out of it? Perhaps you’ve been able to establish yourself as a tara tree that collects fog droplets on its leaves, sends the craved water down its trunk to deposit into the soil that then enriches other species and finally forms an oases?

There is much going on in a desert. The bible has some illustrations too.

Firstly, we see the bible describe desert places as wastelands and desolate places.

Psalm 63:1 … a dry and weary land

Psalm 107:4-5

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them...

I’m sure most people can relate. Desert places can be desolate and feel soul-destroying.

But what other insights does the bible show us about desert places?

In Exodus 5:3 Moses asked Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to go three days travel into the desert in order to make sacrifices to the Lord.

Yes, you heart it right. The desert is somewhere we make sacrifices. Anyone who feels they’ve been through desert seasons understands the meaning of sacrifice. It seems that is the way of life in the desert. But as we’ve seen in nature, that sacrifice can bring out tremendous growth, sustenance for the ecology, and reward.

What else?

Well, God shows Himself in our deserts.

Isaiah 48 says the Israelites didn’t thirst when they were in the desert – the Lord provided water for them (verse 21 – He split the rock and water gushed out).

Matthew 4 describes how Jesus was taken into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tested – he went through a transformative process where He chose to sacrifice His will to the Father and was readied to start and complete His ministry. Through His desert experience, Jesus brought God’s kingdom to earth so that humanity can have the oasis experience of sheltering in God’s love and provision forever.

Many other characters in the bible travelled through desert experiences – Moses, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Elijah, John the Baptist and Paul. Metaphorically, many more travelled through desert experiences – Naomi, Ruth, Esther and Mordecai, Job, Nehemiah, Abigail, David, and Hannah. Not least Adam and Eve after they were forbidden to live in the Garden of Eden any longer. Each had their own cup of choice to drink as they traveled.

While the bible largely describes the desert as arid wastelands it doesn’t depict God as wanting His people to forever dwell in wastelands. God wanted to lead His people through the desert quickly but because of their own unbelief and rebellion they lasted there 40 years. That was their own doing.

We find multiple examples in God’s own creation where regeneration and transformative power takes place in deserts – just as Jesus’ own experience models. The Israelites had to have a change of mindset and heart before they were led out of the desert. Many didn’t make it out. This should be a warning to us.

So many scriptures point to the goodness of God in desert places.

Deuteronomy 32:10 … in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.

Isaiah 43:19 … I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;

And a favourite of mine:

Isaiah 51:3 For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.

So, don’t despair if you seem to be dwelling in the desert. It isn’t God’s intent you stay there forever. Isaiah 32:15 says the desert becomes a fertile field and Isaiah 32:18 says My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. See? He will lead us through the desert, as He did the Israelites. But just like the Israelites, we have to be equipped to live outside of the desert. So, it seems God's intent is that you learn to flourish in the desert. The lessons to be learned in the desert can't be learned anywhere else and God cares too much about us not to teach us those lessons. God keeps watch over us and sets us in our place, so be intent on following Him through the desert. Isaiah 32:16 says the Lord's justice will dwell in the desert. God’s intent for us is to come out of the desert stronger, and empowered. Why? Just as Jesus did, just as His creation shows, to sustain more life around us – to be transformed and transforming.

If you’re desert dwelling, flourish like the tara tree and create an oases around you.


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